Lawrence artist burns message of unity in Kansas field for inauguration

Earthworks artist Stan Herd stands on an elevated platform to show the phrase he and his team seared into a hay field near Lawrence over the weekend. The phrase, burned in with a torch and outlined with mulch, will be featured in Joe Biden’s virtual inaugural celebration. (Photo by Carlos Moreno, KCUR, Kansas News Service)

Stan Herd, renowned for intricate landscape designs, featured in the “Parade Across America,” a virtual inauguration celebration.

by Carlos Moreno, Kansas News Service

A Lawrence crop artist was featured in President-elect Joe Biden’s virtual inauguration Wednesday.

Stan Herd, known for elaborate portraits and other designs cut into fields, has crafted a message of unity for Wednesday’s celebration. He and his team carefully charred the phrase, “America United” in a former hay field outside Lawrence.

The 12-man crew finished Sunday. Herd told KCUR the project, requested by the Biden-Harris inauguration team, was an easy one.

“This is the simplest image I’ve done in 25 years,” he says. “It’s just big letters.”

The large, block text covers about one acre of land belonging to one of Herd’s supporters. He calls this piece and other portraits he’s made of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden a “grassroots effort.”

“This was just an opportunity, quite frankly, to get involved in this final throwdown of the inauguration after this arduous journey that we’ve all been on to try to move the country back in a direction of normalcy,” he said.

He and his team cut the shape with weed trimmers and used mulch around the letters to form an outline. Then, they used a butane torch to burn the interior part of the letters to make them stand out.

Earthworks artist Stan Herd stood near the message he and his team created over the weekend on a hay field near Lawrence. A video of the process and an aerial view of the finished product was aired Wednesday as part of Biden’s “Parade Across America.” (Photo by Carlos Moreno, KCUR, Kansas News Service)

A video of the process and an aerial view of the finished product will be aired Wednesday as part of Biden’s “Parade Across America.”

While Herd was glad to take on this project, he said he wants to move away from political pieces in the future.

He considers himself a political moderate and has been frustrated with President Trump — who he’s worked with before.

About 18 years ago, Herd created a portrait on land belonging to then-real estate developer Donald Trump. He even met Rudy Giuliani in Trump’s office and said both men are completely different today than they were back then.

He said he’s been disappointed by the polarization of the country and hopes the coming years will allow him to focus on the art he wants to do.

“I’m just much more happy when I’m moving,” Herd said. “I’m 70. I’m recovering from cancer and I’m just on fire to change the world with art.”

Carlos Moreno is a freelance multimedia journalist who works in the Kansas City metro. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to
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Governor closes Capitol buildings today and Wednesday

Gov. Laura Kelly has closed the state office buildings in the Capitol complex in Topeka for Tuesday, Jan. 19, and Wednesday, Jan. 20, according to an announcement.

Curtis, Landon and Eisenhower buildings will be closed, along with additional administration buildings, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

States were warned by the FBI that extremists might try to target state capitols, according to national reports. Wednesday will be the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden in Washington, D.C.

“The safety and well-being of our employees is my top priority,” Gov. Kelly said in a news release. “These steps are taken out of an abundance of caution – and I thank all employees for their patience and understanding during this time.”

Employees are instructed to work remotely. If an employee’s regular duties require them to be in the office – and they cannot work from home – they are instructed not to report to work Tuesday, Jan. 19 or Wednesday, Jan. 20, according to the governor’s office.

Gov. Kelly encouraged agency heads with offices in the immediate surrounding area beyond the State Office Buildings to follow similar procedure.

The Statehouse will be open for individuals having business with the Legislature, governor’s or lieutenant governor’s offices, according to the announcement. All Statehouse access will be through the Visitor Center entrance only.

Also closed to the public Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 19 and 20, will be the Kansas Department for Children and Families offices in Topeka and Kansas City, Kansas, according to an announcement.

Clients may still conduct business with the agency by applying online for services at Also, clients may call 1-888-369-4777 to talk with a DCF worker or call the Kansas Protection Report Center number at 1-800-922-5330.

Kansas Chief Justice Marla Luckert announced the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 19 and 20, consistent with the actions taken by the governor to close offices of the executive branch.

“This action is to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone who works in the Judicial Center or who had plans to visit,” Luckert said.

Persons with court business are encouraged to contact a court office to schedule a time to visit after Wednesday, according to the announcement.

Gov. Kelly mourns Kansas COVID-19 losses and uses state-of-the-state address to ask for civility

Gov. Laura Kelly usually gives her state-of-the-state speech in the Capitol building directly to legislators, but this year, because of the risk of COVID-19, she taped it in a Topeka television studio. (Photo by Stephen Koranda, Kansas News Service)

The governor’s state-of-the-state speech called for bipartisanship, cooperation in fighting the pandemic and, less realistically, expansion of Medicaid.

by Stephen Koranda, Kansas News Service

Topeka, Kansas — Gov. Laura Kelly continued to push for vigilance in the fight against the coronavirus and tried to combat skepticism of the vaccine as she laid out her goals on Tuesday for 2021.

The Democratic governor used her state-of-the-state speech to push for Medicaid expansion — a greater longshot than ever — and asked lawmakers for civility as she prepares for a legislative session where she faces an even more conservative Republican majority in the Kansas Statehouse.

Kelly mourned the more than 3,000 Kansans who have died of COVID-19. She urged people to continue to take precautions and get the vaccine.

“We are not out of the woods here. Not by a long shot. Our hospitals are strained and this virus continues to kill our loved ones and our neighbors,” she said. “But we will get through this crisis, with the vaccines.”

The governor’s speech normally happens in the packed Kansas House chamber. This year, because of the pandemic, it was the governor speaking to a camera in a Topeka TV studio.

Initial reports had shown Kansas lagging other states in vaccination rates. Kelly said that was because of delayed reporting and she pointed out that more recent reports have shown significant improvement.

Kelly said about 85,000 Kansans had been vaccinated so far. The state is still in the initial phase focused on people such as frontline health care workers. But she said the state needs help from Washington with the rollout.

“Much of our ability to distribute the vaccine is dependent on the federal government getting the vaccine to us,” she said.

She pointed to another challenge in fighting COVID-19: skepticism about the vaccine.

“Internet conspiracy theories. Complete nonsense,” Kelly said. “Make no mistake, the science behind the vaccines is solid.”

The governor argued that the pandemic also highlighted the need to expand Medicaid to more people. Her attempts to expand the program to cover more than 150,000 low-income Kansans have failed in the past and expansion seems unlikely this year with an even more conservative Legislature following the 2020 election.

“I’ll continue to push, over and over again, for what 38 states across the country have done — to expand Medicaid,” she said.

After the violence at the U.S. Capitol last week, the governor called for bipartisanship, asking lawmakers to work across the aisle and set an example for Kansans to follow.

“We’re being tested like never before,” Kelly said. “This year, working together isn’t simply something I want — it’s something we owe to the people of Kansas.”

Kelly walked a tight line regarding the riot, calling the events “sedition,” but not naming President Donald Trump specifically or blaming him, as some other politicians have.

The new Republican president of the Senate, Ty Masterson, struck a similar tone in his response, saying he hopes “we will be able to find common ground on issues where we can agree, and that we can have spirited, yet respectful, debate on the rest.”

But the two speeches showed contrasting visions for Kansas and hinted at the areas where Kelly and Republicans like Masterson will likely clash.

Masterson said Republicans will also pursue tax changes in response to the federal 2017 tax cuts.

“Kansas taxpayers should also be allowed the opportunity to take advantage of the federal tax cuts, and we must work to enact meaningful property tax reform,” he said.

That could put Republicans on a collision course with Kelly, who said in her speech that she’s opposed to tax cuts right now.

Republican leaders and Kelly have clashed over the state’s response to the pandemic, especially decisions that closed many non-essential businesses earlier this year. Masterson wants to reduce the chance of that happening again.

“The state should always be on the side of keeping businesses open, not letting unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats define who is essential,” he said.

Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to
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